Svalbard Daily Planet for the week of Aug. 19-25, 2019


Climate change forces reindeer turn to seaweed (we’re pretty sure that means “eat” rather than literally transform), salvage resumes on the Northguider trawler, more about tourists wrecking and picking up wreckage in pristine areas, the Svalbard icebreaker is the first Norwegian ship to reach the North Pole, area temperatures at highest point in 300-year timespan and more headlines from the global media about this blessed land of the frozen chosen (with our always inspirational masthead motto for the day in italics).


Svalbard reindeer, unique from other species, also face unique feeding challenges due to rapid climate change in the archipelago. Photo by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Sunday, Aug. 25: Svalbard reindeer turn to seaweed for food as winters warm
(“A deluge of rainy news on the last day of 24-hour sunlight this year”)

Deep in the Arctic Circle nature has found a way to outwit climate change: deprived of their normal diet, the world’s most northerly reindeer turn to seaweed. Strangely, it is not cold and snow that have threatened them with starvation, but rain. In the warmer winter weather rain falls instead of snow, causing a crust of ice too thick for the reindeer to break through and reach the plants beneath which they need to eat to survive. Scientists who studied the reindeer report in the journal Ecosphere that they had assumed that global warming would make life easier for the reindeer, but found that the 20,000 Arctic reindeer were struggling to survive the rain. An earlier study found that the impact of climate change on the vegetation the animals eat had caused their average weight to fall by more than 10 percent in a 16-year period.


The Northguider trawler awaits salvage crews as many weather and ice problems have hampered efforts to remove the vessel from the northern part of Svalbard since it was grounded last December. Photo courtesy of the Norwegian Coastal Administration.

Saturday, Aug. 24: Salvage operation resumes for grounded Northguider trawler in north Svalbard 
(“We’d run ‘Let’s hide the Svalbard Treaty before Trump finds it– but it’s an opinion piece”)

After a long delay due to ice conditions, work to remove the grounded fishing vessel Northguider from a remote shore in Svalbard has resumed. On Dec. 28, 2018, the Northguider grounded at Hinlopenstretet, the strait between Spitsbergen and Nordauslandet in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. After a careful assessment, the Norwegian Coastal Administration determined that the vessel’s removal should wait until August 2019 in order to take advantage of favorable ice conditions in the late summer. A salvage crew from Smit Salvage and a floating shearlegs began work at the site early this month, but approaching drift ice presented a hazard to the operation and they were forced to leave the area last week, NCA said in an update. The team has now returned and Smit will continue efforts to seal up damage and strengthen the hull for a refloat operation. The timeline for the removal depends upon the extent of damage to the hull, NCA said.


Mark Vogler, a guide for Oceanwide Expeditions, gives a thumbs down to the trash, not his shore excursion’s cleanup of it, during a voyage through Svalbard last week. Photo by Mark Vogler.

Friday, Aug. 23: Cruise guides, passengers remove 1,000 kg. of plastic trash in latest of many summer cleanup projects
(“The ultimate trash tabloid for all the news that’s fit to stink”)

Thirteen guides and about 50 passengers aboard the cruise ship Hondius removed about 1,000 kilograms of debris from fishing vessels and other trash from beaches during shore excursions on a voyage last week. The removal was part of Clean Up Svalbard, a project started 20 years ago that during the past few years is seeing a rapid increase in the number of commercial and well as government and environmental entities participating. About 20 tons of plastic waste are being removed each year, according to organizers, although the amount of ocean trash washing up on shores continues to leave throughout the archipelago beaches strewn with garbage within a few years of cleanups. An estimated 80 percent of the debris comes from the fishing industry.


Researchers taking part in the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research examine the remnants of a historic mining camp in Svalbard. Photo courtesy of NIKU.

Thursday, Aug. 22: How cultural heritage is threatened by nature and tourists in the Arctic
(“Rejecting MSM clickbait such as ‘Will Trump now try to buy Svalbard’ – for today, at least”)

A group of scientists recently returning from Svalbard after investigating how to monitor, manage and preserve cultural heritage in the Arctic says the archipelago features good examples of sites threatened by both direct coastal erosion and a lack of awareness of these sites. The CULTCOAST project, led by the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), visited sites at Russekeila at Kapp Linné, on the west coast of Spitsbergen and at Hiorthhamn. While the project seeks to conduct more in-depth studies and offer long-term solutions than previous efforts, they are also recommending quick short-term measures such as signs to inform visitors.


The Norwegian Coast Guard’s Svalbard breaks through sea ice in Korsfjorden during a 2005 expedition in Svalbard. Photo by Jan-Morten Bjørnbakk.

Wednesday, Aug. 21: Coast Guard’s Svalbard icebreaker first Norwegian ship to reach the North Pole
(“Like our brethren at the North Pole, our next step is always south”)

At 9:32 a.m. Wednesday, the Norwegian Coast Guard’s Svalbard reached the North Pole, Aftenposten reports. As far as the Norwegian Armed Forces know it is the first Norwegian vessel to reach 90 degrees latitude north. The Svalbard is sailing on behalf of the Nansen Center in Bergen for a project involving the measuring of temperatures, with the United States also participating in the project. The Coast Guard is primarily responsible for fisheries supervision, rescue operations and military presence, but has on several occasions also assisted Norway’s civilian public with missions like this.


A scientist boards a boat at the Polish Polar Station Hornsund to depart Aug. 16 as the summer research season winds down. Photo courtesy of the Polish Polar Station Hornsund

Tuesday, Aug. 20: Study: Svalbard temperatures at record high compared to past 300 years
(“Think of us as the moldy stuff on the mainstream media”)

An analysis of summer temperatures from a lake at Hornsund during the past 300 years shows current temperatures are at a record high during the period, according to a study published by Cambridge University. The study found”a significant climate warming threshold” beginning in the 1930s and “present day summer temperatures are >4°C higher and the temperature increase since the 1930s has been 0.5°C per decade. These results highlight the exceptionally rapid recent warming of southern Svalbard and add invaluable information on the seasonality of High Arctic climate change and Arctic amplification.”


The CO2 lab operated by The University Centre in Svalbard was established in 2012 in Adventdalen a few kilometers outside Longyearbyen. Photo courtesy of UNIS.

Monday, Aug. 19: Svalbard-bound carbon expert: We’re screwing up how life on Earth regulates the climate
(“We’re pretty sure the guy in the headline is referring to us, the ultimate screwups”)

A biologist and author known for his research about water, ecology and evolution who is on his way to Svalbard to research CO2 and methane emissions in lakes on the archipelago says his recent studies in mainland Norway show fungus in the forests there are of great importance for carbon storage in the ground, reports. Dag O. Hessen, who recently authored the book “Carbon,” said the limits of what ecosystems can handle are being exceeded due to climate change, thus drastically altering how the presence of carbon helps regulate Earth’s climate. While a carbon storage facility affiliated with The University of Svalbard exists just outside Longyearbyen, attempts to pursue larger prototype projects here have been rejected to date by the Norwegian government.